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Provo • BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall had all his defensive players at his disposal on Friday night when the Cougars played host to explosive Cincinnati at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
The Bearcats entered the game averaging 587.9 yards and 39 points per game, the fifth- and 16th-best marks in the country in those categories. They picked up just 341 yards and 24 points in the two-touchdown loss, both season lows, remarkable considering Cincinnati's other two losses were to a pair of undefeated teams, Memphis and Temple.
Memphis (No. 18) and Temple (No. 22) moved into the Associated Press Top 25 on Sunday, while BYU (5-2) received votes in both major polls and would be 27th in the media (AP) poll if it extended that far.
BYU's defense was especially strong up the middle, as nose tackle Travis Tuiloma played extensively for the first time since injuring his knee in the opener at Nebraska, and middle linebacker Harvey Langi returned after missing the UConn and East Carolina games with injuries. The secondary was finally at full strength, too.
Cincy was averaging 386 yards per game through the air, fifth-most in the nation, but mustered just 220 and watched as freshman quarterback Hayden Moore was sacked eight times.
"I think as a defense, when teams start to get yards on us, that just wakes us all up," said defensive end Bronson Kaufusi, who had three sacks to move into No. 3 on BYU's career sacks list with 21. "Everyone just elevates their game, and people want to get to the ball and play faster."
The eight sacks against a team that had given up just six in its first five games was the most for BYU since 1997 against Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. The Cougars now have 24 sacks, fifth-most in the country, and the most through seven games since Mendenhall has been the coach.
"I think the school record [for sacks] is 10," Mendenhall said. "They just played really hard. We made a few personnel changes, a few little tweaks with the scheme here and there, but really it was just the effort" of players such as Kaufusi, Tuiloma, Langi, Sione Takitaki, Sae Tautu and Tomasi Laulile, who all registered sacks or half-sacks.
The Cougars played the most difficult schedule in the country in September (Nebraska, Boise State, UCLA and Michigan), according to the Sagarin Ratings. Their SOS dropped to No. 4 after they played UConn and East Carolina, and to No. 13 after this weekend's games.
It will plummet even more this week because the Cougars, whose current Sagarin Rating is 36, play host on Saturday (1 p.m., BYUtv) to Wagner College, a Football Championship Subdivision school from Staten Island, N.Y., that is 0-6 and fell 43-14 on Saturday to Saint Francis University. The Seahawks have a Sagarin rating of 242.
Lurking in November are two opponents with decent ratings No. 33 Utah State (4-2) and No. 49 Missouri (4-3) and two struggling Mountain West Conference clubs No. 104 San Jose State (3-4) and No. 123 Fresno State (2-5).
If the Cougars can finish 10-2 or even 9-3, it would be quite an accomplishment for a program that lost quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams before the first game was even over and has played without running backs Adam Hine and Algernon Brown and defenders such as Tuiloma and Langi due to injury and Kai Nacua, Takitaki, Jordan Preator and Michael Shelton due to suspensions.
"They're happy and I'm happy," said Mendenhall, summing up seven games. "There's a lot of work that has gone into this season and it is just fun to see them smile and get rewards for all the hard work."
Wagner at BYU
P Saturday, 1 p.m. TV: BYUtv
BYU defense in NCAA rankings
Category Actual Rank
Total defense 392.1 68th
Scoring defense 26.0 64th
Sacks 3.43 5th
Interceptions 10 13th
Forced turnovers 13 27th